Cyberpunk 2077's E3 2019 demo looks like Deus Ex with an unlimited budget

Pretty much all of the PC Gamer team on the ground at E3 2019 saw the new behind-closed-doors demo of Cyberpunk 2077. If you want a detailed rundown of everything we saw, check out James's ludicrously comprehensive write-up of the gameplay shown, which will act as a good reference point for what we discuss below. We thought a second opinion on the footage, with a few days to ponder what we saw, might be valuable, though, so below Phil, Tim, and Samuel talk through their take on Cyberpunk 2077's gameplay demo at E3 2019.

Phil: My big E3 hot take is that many of the most exciting games I saw were, in some form or another, Deus Ex. Cyberpunk 2077 was the most Deus Ex of them all. It might be more Deus Ex than any Deus Ex game. Does that make sense? I'm still dealing with jet lag. I am very tired.

Tim: This makes total sense to me because if you'd squinted slightly during the demo, it almost could have been a new Deus Ex you were looking at. Albeit one made with a budget big enough to buy a gun that could shoot the moon out of orbit. I think this year my biggest takeaway was a slight sense of relief that the combat looked more palatable. Not that combat has ever been the biggest reason to play a CD Projekt Red game, but I was pretty worried that Cyberpunk will suffer in comparison to the inexhaustible well of good shooters on PC, purely on the basis of the first-person perspective it's chosen. I'm less worried now, if still not entirely worry-free.

Samuel: This showing of Cyberpunk felt more like a real game to me, and less like magic than the E3 demo did last year. Instead of the populated region of Night City we saw last year, we had an abandoned-looking, half-complete tourists' resort as a backdrop with almost no traffic. The highlight of the demo was CDPR demonstrating the multiple ways (stealthy, shooty) you can tackle a quest set in a big abandoned mall—how you can distract enemies with vending machines, or hack a boxing robot to beat the shit out of an enemy NPC. It's extremely Deus Ex—and I consider this a good thing, because the last two Deus Ex games never approached these kinds of production values. 

Phil: Yeah, when people asked what I thought of the demo at the show, my pithy summary was just "It's going to be a videogame". That's hardly piercing analysis, but I genuinely thought last year's demo looked astounding, to the point that it didn't feel like something I'd be able to play for a long, long time. This year Cyberpunk 2077 looked like something that feels realistically achievable in 2020. I can imagine playing this. The approaches CDPR demoed, while varied, were simply detailed, incredibly granular versions of the games I've played before. That might sound disappointing, or that I'm trying to downplay what it'll be, but—assuming they get it right—this has a good chance of being my favourite game of next year. I love RPGs. I love immersive sims. This brings together elements of both in an incredibly high-end package. That it's likely not also redefining what a game can be is a price I'm happy to pay.

Samuel: I felt similarly, that this game fits firmly in the lineage of stealth shooters I've played and enjoyed in the past. And honestly, I would much rather this look like a computer game from this decade than something ethereal and unattainable.

Phil: What did you think about the combat? I know Tim isn't a huge fan of how it looks, but Tim is obsessed with Destiny and you're just not going to get a Bungie-level gunfeel in something so focused on variety of approach. I thought it looked broadly fine, in a similar way to how Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's combat was functional and not at all the main point of the game. Also, the demo showed off some cool weapons. The nanowire, which slices up enemies into so many limbs, looked brutal. And some of the hacking powers you can unleash on enemies are almost ghoulishly gruesome.

Samuel: Ooh, I liked the nanowire. That was a neat-looking novelty weapon that fits the world extremely well. When it comes to guns, it's maybe telling that it didn't make as much of an impression as the stealth gameplay did to me (which, to be fair, is the way I'd want to play), but I'm loathe to get too down on shooting that I haven't even tried yet. I liked that V could rip the gun out of the enemy turret—that's the shit I live for.

Tim: The weird thing with the nanowire for me is it didn't seemed to connect correctly. It kinda flopped out and then a second later the limbs started tumbling. I dunno. Make no mistake, I am pro-nanowire as a position, it just needs tightening up.

Samuel: What did you think of the idea that there will be these sort of 'boss' encounters in Cyberpunk 2077? There's one at the end of this demo, Sasquatch, an enemy with a hammer. I don't think I've ever seen those done well in this kind of first-person game.

Phil: Yeah, there was a bit where the boss started to hack V, which effectively put the fight on a timer. I can't say for sure, but it felt like a scripted moment. If that is the case (and it might just have been specifically for the demo), then yeah, I have some concerns. Certainly the worst moments of Eidos Montreal's Deus Exes were when they tried to fight against the systemic design in favour of scripted setpiece moments. But hey, maybe it's not. And, more importantly, that fight was entirely optional. Stealthy players were free to sneak on through, which suggests CDPR aren't going to be precious about you fighting powerful enemies.

As a Deus Ex fan, Cyberpunk 2077 feels like the most exciting thing on the horizon

Samuel: That's awesome. I definitely didn't miss that detail because I was tired as hell. As with last year, I was incredibly impressed by the presentation of story—excellent voice actors, fantastic facial animations. Keanu is everywhere in this demo, which follows up on the promise of his arrival on-stage at the Xbox briefing. I also liked the contrast of Pacifica with the area of Night City we saw last year: a skybox of half-completed high-rises with idyllic tourism billboards gave this a real sense of place. I like how the different factions in Cyberpunk feel like they have their own agendas, with you caught in the middle of them. I like how V gets in a bathtub of ice at the end of the demo to access cyberspace. I liked that ludicrously busy upgrades screen, and the lack of forced classes. 

Phil: Keanu saying "Really think they give a rat's dick about how you look?" was definitely a moment.

Samuel: I didn't think much of the CG trailer that was released last week—but this demo is legit. That looks like a fun game, however you approach it, and you can still break through materials in the environment, which I was dubious would stay in from last year's demo (I assume it's only certain surfaces, as it's glass that breaks apart in this demo).

Tim: The other thing I want to note, lest I be cast as the contrarian who just isn't that into the most exciting game in development, is that it definitely feels like they're going to deliver a world you really want to soak in (ice bath notwithstanding). If you think back to when we were being demoed The Witcher 3, it really was a mere snapshot of the eventual scope we received, and I expect the same here. 

Phil: Yeah, this was a confident 50-or-so minutes of footage that was packed full of promising details. We've barely even had chance to cover the RPG progression systems, of which there are many. The fact that classes are loosely defined, letting you take abilities from each. The way your reputation unlocks new missions and new software that grants additional combat skills. The way your choices provide specific conversation options tailored to your build, and the suggestion that these could dramatically change how you complete a quest. It was so packed it became quite difficult to follow—the resolution became quite the web of people hacking other people and double-crossing each other. I look forward to picking it apart in detail when it's released to the public at PAX this September. But even more, I look forward to playing it next year. As a Deus Ex fan, Cyberpunk 2077 feels like the most exciting thing on the horizon.

Those sure were some words. We've got a bunch of other Cyberpunk 2077 things for you to read: check out Phil's interview, everything we know about Cyberpunk 2077, and our detailed explainer of how Keanu Reeves' character behaves in the game. 

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.